To stand any chance of climbing a great mountain, you need a fearless adventurer to lead the way. Jack Wilshere; the job’s yours.
Gallant, intrepid and undaunted by anyone or anything, there is no one better equipped to lead the Three Lions to a brave new frontier than the dashing 21-year-old midfield maestro.
England haven’t sat proudly at the summit of world football for two generations. There’s a very real prospect they might never enjoy that feeling again, but with the Arsenal midfielder dragging the team forwards for the next decade or more, they at least stand a fighting chance.
Ever since I first clapped eyes on Wilshere at the age of 16, I could see he was ballsy. At that age I’d feel butterflies at the prospect of playing with and against boys a couple of years older than me in the youth team. Yet there he was plunged into the spotlight in front of 60,000 fans, strutting around the pitch as if he owned it.
Four aspects to his play immediately marked him out as special, and none had anything to do with his obvious ability.
- If someone didn’t pass him the ball when he wanted it he’d let them know that he wasn’t happy.
- When an opponent crunched into him unfairly, he’d leap up and stand his ground.
- With the ball at his feet he wasn’t the slightest bit afraid to take his man on, or play a risky pass.
- If he made a mistake, he demanded the ball from his team-mates even more.
Reading those words it sounds obvious, even easy, but when you were 16 do you think you could have done all those things in the Arsenal first team? Take it from me; few could. That kind of spunk, that kind of edginess is hard to find.
Five years on – and despite an 18 month injury nightmare – Wilshere still has the same unflinching character. Only now, he’s an infinitely better player too.
This season the midfielder has been the heartbeat of Arsenal’s side. When his team-mates (and fans) have needed a lift, he’s often been the man to provide it in the form of a bone-crunching tackle, a laser-guided pass, an inspired one-two, or a driving run. Sometimes it’s just his energy that rubs off rather than a piece of play.
It may be a by-product of his natural game, it might be deliberate, it’s probably a combination of the two, but Jack Wilshere knows how to jolt teams into life and that’s a very special quality.
His performance against Brazil last night was staggeringly confident. He couldn’t have looked any more at home.
Wilshere’s first contribution set the tone. Effortlessly gliding past three yellow shirts he intuitively laid the ball off to a team-mate before being dumped onto the turf by a wayward challenge. There was no rolling around. He just wanted the ball back as quickly as he could and for the next 88 minutes or so, the Arsenal star enlivened everybody around him with his talent and tenacity.
Always on the move, he caressed his passes with a master’s touch, flew into tackles without a hint of trepidation and waltzed past Brazil’s best as if they were stationary. Just as he did as a 16-year-rookie at the Emirates, Wilshere performed as if he was his back garden.
You can’t coach Wilshere’s instinctive brilliance, or the soul that’s the essence of his game. It was the same with another England number 8, Paul Gascoigne.
However, let’s not allow the raw ingredients that Wilshere is displaying go to waste. Let’s use what he’s doing as a catalyst for the change.
If the FA’s coaching sessions actively encourage Wilshere’s old-fashioned spirit for the game, his desire to run with the ball, the instinct to look forward rather than sideways and to play with absolutely no fear or inhibitions whatsoever, then the next generation of England footballers will have a wonderful platform to shine.
Who knows, it might inspire them to finally climb to the top of that mountain.
Read more from Adrian Clarke here